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NBA AM: The Bucks Could Hold The Line

What are the Milwaukee Bucks planning to do this offseason? … The New York Knicks are struggling to find their guy at No. 4.

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Is It Hunting Season? The Milwaukee Bucks was the darling of last season – a team with low expectations, a coaching change and a roster full of pieces that didn’t seem to fit together the prior year all came together into something fairly special, resulting in a playoff run.

As the Bucks entered their offseason, a number of topics take center stage – primarily what will the Bucks do in the NBA draft, how will they handle the free agency of Khris Middleton and are their roster tweaks to be made?

The Bucks will likely take the best talent available to them in the draft; however, they do have their eyes set on an athletic big who can play the four and five or knock down shooter. The Bucks have also expressed an interest in point guards, specifically point guards that can score off the bounce.

The Bucks have not closed the door on a trade involving their pick, according to sources, and there is a sense that if the right player becomes available a few spots above where the Bucks are picking, they wouldn’t be opposed to making a deal to move up. Sources close to the process believe the Bucks can find a player that fits with their existing draft position, however that has not stopped Milwaukee from exploring. UCLA big man Kevon Looney, Arkansas forward Bobby Portis and Georgia State shooter R.J. Hunter have been labeled serious targets as have point guards like Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne.

As far as Khris Middleton is concerned, sources say the Bucks will issue the required qualifying and have every intention of matching any offer sheet Middleton may receive from other teams. The Bucks view Middleton as a core piece to their success last season and will meet whatever price is necessary to keep him in Milwaukee.

Something that is easy to overlook is the fact that Milwaukee will get Jabari Parker back, who, according to sources, has taken to his ACL rehab with passion and aggression. Not only has Parker got himself into great shape physically, the core work and leg strength that’s required in an ACL rehab has really helped Parker improve his balance, which should improve his shooting.

The Bucks do you have a few tradable assets such as forward Ersan Ilyasova, guard OJ Mayo and swingman Jerryd Bayless however sources close to the process label a trade involving any of them as unlikely the Bucks view is that they have a solid and cohesive core and that they want to add to that not subtract. That doesn’t mean a trade is out of the question especially if it returns a solid veteran however the Bucks’ stance is to build on what worked so well a season ago.

The Knicks Are Conflicted: Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers landed the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. For some teams, that would be viewed as a blessing, a chance to have the pick of the litter. However, in Cleveland’s case there were concerns that the talent available was so similar that the Cavs could have picked the wrong player. The debate over who Cleveland should select carried on all the way to draft day with the Cavs seriously considering trades before ultimately settling on Andrew Wiggins.

This year, the New York Knicks find themselves with the fourth overall selection and a similar quandary. The top of the draft board including Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are no-brainer selections. If those guys are there you take one of them and don’t look back. The next group includes point guard D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay. Both should be solid NBA guards and both could be impact players for whichever team drafts them.

For the Knicks, unfortunately there is a sense that Towns, Okafor and Russell will be off the board when they select at number four, leaving them with the choice of Mudiay, Duke forward Justise Winslow, Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein and the two international prospects in Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja.

The problem for the next tier is that, except for Mudiay, none of those players appear to be the instant franchise changer the Knicks were hoping for when their season fell apart last year. All of them could be very serviceable impact NBA players, but choosing which one is the safest pick has been far from easy.

Sources close to the process label the Knicks’ decision-making process as completely fractured at this point, with some leaning toward Cauley-Stein, others Mudiay, with Winslow and the two international prospects also firmly in the mix. As the draft gets ever closer, there is a sense that the Knicks don’t have a clear-cut favorite and have begun serious consideration on trading the fourth overall pick.

Waffling and uncertainty on the next tier of talent is fairly common in the draft and for the Knicks, getting this wrong could be a franchise blow that may take years to recover from.

There is a sense that the Denver Nuggets could be open to trading point guard Ty Lawson and or forward Kenneth Faried, both of whom could be safer bets than what’s available to the Knicks with the fourth pick.

The Knicks have started meeting with potential candidates for the number four pick and have also started to reach out to players that could be far lower, indicating they are at least formulating a game plan for a trade down scenario should the Knicks choose to consummate one.

Part of the draft process is to explore all of your team’s options and it’s fairly clear the Knicks are doing exactly that. With no clear-cut front runner at this point, the Knicks could go in any number of directions with the fourth overall pick, including trading it, and sometimes that might be better than making the wrong pick, especially if you are in the situation the Knicks are in where they want to turn the corner fairly quick.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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